Mikhail Bulgakov and Salman Rushdie: Similarities and Differences between The Master and Margarita and The Satanic Verses

Anita Kondoyanidi, Liberty Fund, Inc.

In one of his interviews, Salman Rushdie suggests that in writing his notorious novel The Satanic Verses he was influenced not by the Quran, as many critics assumed, but by the Russian novel The Master and Margarita. A comparative analysis of these two novels clearly demonstrates many similarities and correspondences in politics, religion, and cultural migrancy: if The Master and Margarita is about a devil, Woland, who descends into the Soviet Bolshevik State, The Satanic Verses is about a devil and an angel who “fall” from the sky on British soil; if Bulgakov’s novel contains an extended inner-frame narrative in which the author-character (Master) rewrites the story of Christ’s crucifixion from Pilate’s point of view, The Satanic Verses comprises several interpolated narratives — all religious just as in The Master and Margarita — in which Gibreel Farishta describes his dream sequence that retells the story of Mohammed and the satanic verses, as well as a story of Ayesha. Additionally, both narratives depict ill-fated love, an ostensibly mad character, and the motif of the devil wandering the streets of a European capital city. Rushdie assigns the role of Bulgakov’s literary critics both to 1980s London cultural reformers/movers and to Islamic purists/fundamentalists. Scenes of a family’s life and of a breakout from the detention center resemble precisely scenes from The Master and Margarita.

These two novels had similar receptions insofar as both were banned. But if Mikhail Bulgakov gained a large Christian audience after the publication of this novel, Salman Rushdie lost the majority of Muslim readers. In this paper, I will analyze in what way the Russian novel The Master and Margarita influenced Salman Rushdie’s work, and how the differences between these two novels resulted in a novel that has failed to gain a large audience of Muslim religious readers.